This weekend my friend Malcolm took a group of us out on Lake Norman, and the weather was gorgeous, especially at sunset. As we sailed and motored around the lake, Malcolm put on some tunes. Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald are always winners for sunset on the water, but to my surprise video game theme music provided the perfect background!
Since being a regular feeder of quarters to Asteroids and Centipede in movie theater lobbies, I haven’t had much experience with video games (a few episodes of procrastination-fueled binge-playing of whatever game could be found on the nearest computer or airplane entertainment system notwithstanding). Apparently since then not only have the graphics become so good that naïve people think it’s actual footage—as happened when I sat down on the couch to watch a friend’s son play a hockey video game (I thought I was sitting down to watch an actual game!)—but the accompanying soundtracks have also progressed, far beyond the R2-D2-like squeaks and beeps of the 1980s.
Several years ago I found that movie soundtracks made perfect writing music, and last year I read a column by Peggy Noonan in which she said she uses the same technique. I needed vaguely familiar music that lacked words to provide some mild entertainment while I rehearsed various wordings in my head. Noonan pointed out that movie music also has a sense of direction and action which helps her keep the narrative of her composition moving.
Well, I have a tip for Ms. Noonan: video game music is even better than movie music. It occurred to me as we were sailing and enjoying the epic themes that the music was similar to film soundtracks, but less compartmentalized, less compelled to repeat the hook, and not constrained by the need to illustrate all the ups and downs of a 90-minute story.
The morning after my sailing trip, I sat down to write for the first time to such tracks as “The Legend of Zelda,” “Super Mario Brothers,” and “Chrono Trigger.” It was the most productive I’ve been in ages. Thank you, Malcolm, and Peggy … you’re welcome!